Thursday, February 22, 2018

#METC18 Reflection

I can't believe it's already been a week since the METC conference. Of course I am speaking about the Midwest Education Technology Community Conference held last week in St. Charles, MO. After reflecting on this conference, a few things stand out to me as I reflect on the experience.

1. Nothing beats networking

I don't think it matters what you do or where you do it, you need to have a support group of people that you can talk to about it. For me I am speaking about the tech coaching world. As a person that is the lone technology coach in my school district, the opportunity to network and talk about struggles is enormously helpful. These "hallway conversations" are just as valuable to me as many of the sessions I attend. I also can't say enough about getting out of your hotel room and spending time with the people at the conference. Whether you are chilling at the bar, at the silly karaoke reception, or doing a networking event in the vendor hall, these moments are full of opportunity to learn from and be inspired by others.

2. Kids can teach us

I saw several sessions and talks that emphasized student choice, voice, and autonomy in the classroom. And two of the sessions I presented dealt heavily with emphasizing student autonomy, decision making, and creation.

Standout Sessions

Sadie Lewis' pre-conference session on design was amazing. In it she covered layouts, colors, font/typeface, and a multitude of other design consideration when working with creative and practical projects. I like to learn about material like this because it's something that we often forget to emphasize in schools, typically in the name of efficiency. We wan't teachers to teach and students to complete work, and we don't care about how artfully it's done. But something that has changed in my mind in recent years is that working artfully and creating things people want to look at is an immensely valuable skill. It doesn't matter how succinct and full of information your bullet points are -- they won't make a difference if people aren't interested in looking at them. Design really does matter these days as a life skill.

Steve Dembo did a session on harnessing social media for use in education. I am a pretty avid social media user, but I still gained from great insight from what he had to share. First, he used a fascinating icebreaker to have everyone get to know each other. The concept was you gave your name and school district to the person sitting next to you. You then had 10 minutes to research that person and introduce them to the group. This was awesome. It was a great eye opener about what we broadcast of ourselves on the internet, but also the power we have to control out image in positive or negative ways. No one had anything embarrassing come out, but after that activity I would definitely be going back to make sure my name came up clean after popping it into Google.

Steve also shared a lot of great information about various social media networks and how students use social media to be documentarians of their lives. It resonated well with me because at the conference I was also presenting a session about how students should be publishing work on YouTube as "YouTubers". It made me think about how many schools completely disallow social networking or cell phone use in general without consideration of what a powerful storytelling tool these things can be.

I sat in on a panel of folks doing Q&A about starting an EdCamp. Some others in my district are looking to offer more intentional and targeted PD, which is exactly what an EdCamp is designed to do. Our problem is that EdCamp offerings are few and far between in Mid Missouri. It was a very informative experience having conversations about what it takes to get started with the EdCamp model, and some very helpful folks shared some great resources to help us get started. Don't be surprised to see EdCamp MidMo out there soon!

Eleanna Liscombe had a wonderful session about STEAM projects that she does with her middle school class. As a mentor for our new middle school tech teacher, I popped in to get some ideas for him to integrate into his classroom. However once I was in there she immediately challenged us with some STEAM challenges, grouped us together and put us to work. It was a refreshing take at a conference this size, and immediately sold me on the idea of STEAM challenges in the classroom setting.

I could go on and on about the sessions at METC, but I'll spare your time. If you are a teacher and you can get yourself to METC, you owe it to yourself to attend. And definitely check out the preconference!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Create Custom Art with Google Drawings

Some people never truly understand how amazing Google Drawings is. From the get go, it seems kind of boring. You just get that blank checkboard background. The tools aren't conducive to drawing. It's sterile.

All of that is true. But that simplicity is always what makes Google Drawings sooooo amazing. One thing I use to teach students how to get familiar with design and the functions of creating drawings is to have them create their own derivative art using images in Google Drawings.

The secret sauce is this guy:

The Polyline Tool! (you should be imagining that with a big, deep, echoing voice because this thing will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.) Let me show the ways.

First we are going to open up Google Drawings and just drop in any ordinary picture from the internet.

Now we are going to use the Polyline tool to "mask" over the image. This will give us a rough version of the picture that we can then start to touch up with our own personalization.

For this car, I'll use some circles to complete the wheels. I'll also flip through the layers to get the window shapes and some of the trim. After working for a while you'll have a whole mess of shapes that will soon become your own pretty little creation.

The final step is to go in, color it up, adjust your shapes, and add any extra details. This car needs a sweet lightning bolt down the side. You'll also want to delete your original starting image from behind your new creation.

Finally you'll want to group these shapes together to create a cohesive whole. This will let you move, stretch, resize, copy, paste -- all sorts of other things like it was any other image.

So that's it! This is such an amazing hack -- I have used this for countless classroom applications -- creating characters for stories, objects for animations, original images for presentations, I use this at home to have my daughters design their own princesses and castles. I have even used this exact technique to help my wife design a shirt for the staff in her office. There are truly thousands of applications for this, in and out of the classroom.